Tattooed Lady

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, acquired directly from the artist
    Allan Stone Gallery, New York
    Felix Landau Gallery, New York
    Noah Goldowsky Gallery, New York
    OK Harris Gallery, New York
    Private Collection
    Sotheby’s Parke-Bernet, New York, November 8, 1979, lot 816
    Janie C. Lee, Houston
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Texas Collects: Willem de Kooning & His Contemporaries, March 19 - May 21, 1995
    Houston, The Menil Collection, How Artists Draw: Toward the Menil Drawing Institute and Study Center, February 15 - May 18, 2008

  • Literature

    David Dillon, “Janie C. Lee and David Warren Home,” House & Garden, June 1991, p. 106-107 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “The landscape is in the Woman and there is Woman in the landscapes.” – Willem de Kooning, 1953

    Having spent the end of the 1940s dissecting the pictorial elements of Cubism, the dawn of the 1950s saw Willem de Kooning begin to compose his subjects with brimming, energetic strokes and a distinctively voluptuous physicality. His paintings of women would catapult him into the canon of art history, notably those on view at his show Paintings on the Theme of the Woman at the Janis Gallery in 1953, the year that Tattooed Lady, 1953 was executed. Having discovered a new sense of artistic freedom following this exhibition, the artist sought a broader range of techniques, using his outstanding draftsmanship to investigate novel ideas and develop a figurative and complex vocabulary of abstraction, exemplified in the present lot. Both drawing while looking at his subject, and drawing with his eyes shut, with his right hand predominantly but occasionally ambidextrously, de Kooning possessed a masterful ability to cultivate an image of a figure from a variety of marks, from arcs to circles, angles, erasures, and vertical slashes. Tattooed Lady, 1953 retains the hallmarks of his Woman paintings, including the interplay of line, color and shadow with shifting degrees of resemblance and abstraction, the resulting female form which art historian Diane Waldman would describe as “not portraits of a particular subject, but emblems of the female form. They are demimondaine and matriarch rolled into one.” (Diane Waldman, De Kooning: The Women: Works on Paper 1947-1954, New York, 1995, p. 2)

    Tattooed Lady, 1953 features a woman with a tattoo on her forearm; her contracted, polygonal body comprised of vivid color marks and dark verticals, revealing the artist’s maturing hand. She is bound to the linearity of an ever-so-slightly slanted rectangle filled in with peach crayon rubbings and given a suggestive pursed expression on her pink lips. Throughout her shape, marginal strokes appear, as her body curves to indicate a pair of short legs, a crude torso and the outline of a window to her right. Tattooed Lady, 1953 foretells of eventual expansion in de Kooning’s compositional language—in 1954, the artist would begin depicting figural elements juxtaposed within fragments of an environment, implying a setting to some effect. Curator Paul Cummings would later affirm de Kooning’s drawings of the 1950s to be “among the most complex of mid-twentieth-century drawings.” (Paul Cummings, Jörn Merkert, and Claire Stoullig, Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture, Munich and New York, 1984, pp. 17-18). Notable in the artist’s oeuvre, the present lot, among his sketches, can be considered a significant triumph within the storied practice of Modernism.

  • Artist Bio

    Willem de Kooning

    Dutch-American • 1904 - 1997

    Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and moved to the United States in his early 20s, arriving in Manhattan by 1927. A founding member of the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York, de Kooning was a contemporary of painters Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and of course his wife, Elaine de Kooning. 

    Known for having stated “flesh is the reason why oil painting was invented,” de Kooning’s work often evokes the human body--even as some of his contemporaries moved towards pure abstraction. Like the other Abstract Expressionists, de Kooning was a proponent of “Action Painting,” which emphasized the physical aspect of their work, eschewing the idea that painting was necessarily a careful, precise art form. By the 1960s, the artist was living and working out of his farmhouse on Long Island, and he managed to breathe new life into his work after decades in an urban environment. Though he was no longer a public figure at that time, the resultant body of works that he produced from 1975 through 1977 are among his most renowned, both critically and in the marketplace – his auction records since 2006 have been works from this period. Following a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s, the artist made his last work in 1991 and passed away in 1997.

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Tattooed Lady

pencil and crayon on paper
16 5/8 x 15 1/4 in. (42.2 x 38.7 cm)
Signed "de Kooning" lower right; further titled "Tatoed Lady" upper right.

$300,000 - 500,000 

sold for $365,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 May 2016